Author’s Notes and Disclaimers: The characters used in this story are the sole possession of Be-Pappas, Saito Chiho and Flower Comics. The are used entirely without permission, but I bet Ikuhara-san preens with delight everytime he thinks about fanfic.
The situations herein are the copyright of E. Friedman, 1999 – like that will ever hold water in any kind of legal situation. So please don’t steal my ideas without my permission.
I just want to make very clear that this is NOT part of a series. Yes, I know it begins in the middle and doesn’t end. So does Revolutionary Girl Utena, so there. PLEASE do not email me and ask when the rest is coming out, or where the first part is. ;-)
If you want to tell me you enjoyed the story, however, feel free to do so at email@example.com
This story is dedicated to Banana Yoshimoto. Read her books. You won’t regret it.
The World’s Shell
“There are many days when all the awful things that happen make you sick at heart, when the path before you is so steep you can’t bear to look. Not even love can rescue a person from that.” – Banana Yoshimoto, Kitchen
There is an old saying that revenge was a dish best served cold.
There is another saying, that living well is the best revenge.
Neither of them is true.
Enough time had passed that her revenge, should she have chosen to take it, could have been sweet indeed. And she was, without doubt, living well. And yet it meant no more now than it ever had. It was never a lust for revenge, or power, or self-knowledge that she had sought. Simply diversion. She had found that, true, but what had she missed in return? What experiences had she never had, following so remote and ethereal a pursuit?
When she passed from the sheltering walls of the Academy, she found herself in an odd, dream-like world, where doors opened for her as she approached them. Unconsciously steeling herself for the difficulty of “real life,” she had instead found herself sitting alone in a fine office surrounded by assistants, her future assured, her past never spoken of.
And as she stared out the window upon this gray winter day, the snow swirling softly and spreading itself out in a carpet of down, she wondered how the hell she had gotten here…and what to do now.
Her fingers instinctively moved to feel for the chain she no longer wore about her neck. She hadn’t worn it in years, not since she had left the Academy, had taken this job and had learned what She had become – the sad wife of a pathetic man. While she sat here, the powerful president of a large, multinational corporation. It should have been sweet. But it never was. Nothing was ever sweet anymore, not since the smile died in her eyes.
The snow was lifted by a gust of wind that she could neither feel nor hear. Through the thick glass, she could see the soft flakes suspended for a moment, static from conflicting forces, poised between heaven and earth.And there am I, she thought, neither one thing nor another. No joy, no pain, just a life hanging between one state and another. “Limbo.” She spoke out loud, but the sound fell flat in her office, absorbed by the furnishings. She felt like a creature, caught forever in a glass globe, surrounded by crystalline flakes of light.
She looked around her, her hand still lying gently upon her neck. She knew that others thought her beautiful and cold, and she thought back to a day when warmth had been within and about her.
The three of them had picnicked for lunch. They had sat and laughed and joked, and life had been full of hope, and warmth and love. He had to go, he said, there was a teacher he needed to speak to, and they had waved as he left. Then She had turned to her, and placing one hand on her arm, had squeezed it and smiled. And she thought her heart would burst with joy.
She closed her eyes against the memory. It was unfair, she thought, that this time of year always brought back these thoughts. She removed her hand from her neck and gently pressed the buzzer for her secretary.
The secretary’s response was prompt. The annual gift to Takatsuki Shiori had been sent and received. She thanked the secretary and as she was about to disconnect, was startled to hear the woman interrupt her.
“Excuse me, President Arisugawa, the Chairman has just asked me to tell you, that she would appreciate it if you would stop by her office before you leave for the evening.”
She was extremely surprised by the request. The Chairman never saw anyone, for any reason. The position was, so rumor had it, a sinecure given to some old lady, some scion of a Samurai clan long dead; their skills at battle turned to hostile takeovers and investing in other people’s ideas. It was supposed by all at the company that there was in truth no chairman, just a dusty office and a name on letterhead.
After several years here, even this vague mystery failed to be of sufficient interest to claim more than a moment’s thought. It was no more bizarre than the duels she had performed on command at the Academy. And the end would be the same…nothing. There was no gain to be had by pursuing the mystery. There was no gain at all in anything. Life was meant to be lived, then one would pass from the earth with no more fuss than a cherry blossom petal swept away by April rain.
She turned to face the swirling snow, her hand lightly grazing the spot where the locket had lain upon her breast. She remembered clearly the day it had been lost. The very first day she had begun at this company, in fact. At the time she had called it her sacrifice, the price she paid for moving into this job. She thought, with some vain hope, that the loss of the object would likewise bring the loss of the memories. But they had never left her.
She dropped her head. When had it all gone wrong? When had she died? Was it when She had left the Academy, or was it when She had drawn the sword from within her? Or was it when that man had returned? When had her hopes failed, and her ability to feel been lost? She couldn’t remember, and that worried her. If she must go through life passionless and alone, the least she could do was say a prayer now and again for the youth she had once been.
She watched the snowfall, now coating the ledge outside the window, and she considered all she had done since coming here. Her first act had to been to trace Her movements, Her attempt at college, Her marriage to a salaryman, a kindly, bland soul. She had made sure they would never want, had given Her a job…though She had never know from whom the offer came. Now she held in her hand the ability to ruin their lives at any time – and the thought brought her no more joy than the annual gift of roses sent to Her. Nothing held any joy at all.
Silently, she rose from her chair, and turning away from the darkening night, she walked across the office, opened the door and looked out upon her secretary. The young Chinese woman was beautiful. Her eyes often shone with a genuine happiness, and her hair, neither too long nor too short, looked extremely soft. She stopped herself from imagining it running through her fingers…
“Thank you, Miss Tsui. Please go home now. And be careful, the snow is coming down very quickly.”
“O…Okay…” The secretary jumped at the President’s voice, so soft, yet so compelling. “Thank you.” But the President had already passed by on her way to the Chairman’s office, and she entirely failed to see the look in Miss Tsui’s eyes. Concern, mixed with equal parts fear and fascination. The young secretary packed her things up to leave but, as she grabbed up her bag, she looked around quickly, then stepped into the President’s office. Moving furtively, she walked over to the coat closet and slipped a small, carefully wrapped package out of her bag and into the President’s coat pocket. Then nearly running, she left the inner office and slammed the door behind her as she escaped into the hall.
The receptionist noticed Miss Tsui’s flushed face as she ran by with a perfunctory wave, but said nothing. She’d hear about it tomorrow at lunch, when Mei-lin had a chance to talk to her. The girl was quite besotted with her boss. The receptionist smiled. President Arisugawa did that to the people who worked with her. She’d been here eight years, and in that time how many gifts, love letters…the phone rang and the receptionist abandoned her train of thought entirely.
The door was open when Juri entered. There was a fire laid in a small fireplace, which gave off a warm, aromatic scent. Juri did not even try to stop herself from enjoying the thick, tangy air. It brought back memories of so long ago it might have been another life.
A tray of tea sat, ready to be poured, on a small table near the fire. Two leather chairs completed the picture of western-style comfort. Juri felt a sudden chill run through her.
“Please sit down, President Arisugawa.” The voice that came to her was disembodied, but rich. It held a sense of familiarity, yet she would swear she never heard it before. Obediently, Juri sat in one of the chairs.
“Would you like me to pour?” she asked, directing her question to the large chair behind the desk, whose occupant could only be seen in silhouette.
“Yes, thank you. I take my tea black.”
Juri took her time pouring the tea into the nearly translucent china cups. She could feel her heart pounding with excitement, but she had no idea why she should feel this way. Unless the Chairman’s voice was unusually trained, she was no old woman. Who was she then?
Juri started violently when the voice sounded just behind her. Her hand jerked and the teapot lid dropped to the floor. Before it could hit, a hand scooped it up and replaced it fluidly on top of the pot. Juri stared at her in astonishment. She was sure she knew the woman, but no name came to her mind.
The woman dropped gracefully into the other chair, picked up her cup and sipped gently from the dark liquid.
Her eyes met Juri’s, but they were hooded, showing no expression. “What,” she said at last, “is it that you want from this life?”
“Excuse me?” Juri had no idea what she meant. From “this” life? What did that mean?
“What goals do you have – what do you aim for?”
“Well, my division has met its marketing goals…” Juri fumbled for the appropriate answer, but the woman laid a hand upon her arm, halting the flow of words. Juri stared at the hand, her mouth open.
“I’m not talking about the company. I have every confidence that you do exactly what you need to, to make this company profitable. I mean, what is it that you want?”
Juri still stared at the hand. Delicate, long fingers laid themselves across her forearm. She could feel their warmth through her sleeve. When was the last time she had been touched by another person? An image sprang to her mind of another hand, a warm sunny day, when joy was in her heart.
The hand withdrew and Juri came out of her reverie with a certain feeling of loss. “What do I want?” Juri repeated. “I don’t know.” She paused. “I don’t think I’ve ever known.”
The woman sighed, her eyes closed. “It is said that there are only two motives for crime, did you know that?”
Juri shook her head and sipped at the tea in her cup.
The silence built between them.
“However, these motives are simply tools. In truth, there is only one motive. Revenge.” The Chairman’s voice was barely above a whisper, but the words pierced Juri like a sword’s point.
Juri swallowed her tea too fast and choked slightly. “I don’t take your meaning.”
“Money and love are really only ciphers. The true motive for any crime…indeed, any action at all, is power. Don’t you agree?”
Juri considered. She might have agreed, once upon a time. Power seemed as good a thing as any, as just a reward for her skills as any. But power brings out the corruption in one’s soul. And so it had for her.
The Chairman continued to speak as if Juri had agreed with her. “And the reason we need power? To get revenge on those who have wronged us. Whether they know it or not, we hold that power over them, contemplating the effect of our power. What would happen to them if we let the sword fall, the pendulum swing?”
Juri stared at the Chairman in horror. How harsh a statement this seemed…and yet, it so closely echoed her earlier thoughts. Was she that simple to read? Was her soul so banal as that? She rebelled at the thought.
“The truest desire, the purest desire, is for revenge. Isn’t that what you want?” The Chairman’s voice was an incantation in Juri’s mind, flowing endlessly, filling her with a rich river of sound. She could see herself, lost amid a pile of silken cushions, the material cool on her naked skin, she turned to see the form next to her, the soft brown eyes, trusting and glad, greeting her with a warm smile meant only for herself.
Juri found herself leaning towards those eyes, losing herself in them… “No!” she cried out. “No! I don’t want that…I never wanted…I can’t…” Her voice was weak, her protests dying, as a new image filled her mind. Now she sat behind her desk, a cold, cruel smile crossing her face as She cried, begging for solace, for forgiveness, even for mercy… as She fell to her knees in desperation.
“Oh, God, no…” Juri’s voice was full of pain. Is that who I’ve become? “No…I don’t want any of that.” She could feel unaccustomed tears slide down her cheeks, hating herself for her weakness, even as she reveled in the release they brought.
“So.” The Chairman’s voice shattered the vision. Juri looked around quickly. The fire still burned brightly, the snow still fell outside. Nothing was any different. Nothing at all.
“You don’t wish to have power, then? Isn’t that what you fought for?”
Juri didn’t answer.
“You were the Captain of the fencing team at the Academy, were you not? And one of the members of the student council?”
“Yes.” Juri agreed, wondering where the conversation was going.
“And you fought in the Duels, am I correct?” The voice was penetrating Juri’s very soul, she was trapped by it, pinned to her seat, with no escape from the soft, insinuating tones. “Why did you fight Juri? Wasn’t it for the “Power to Revolutionize the World”?
Juri gasped, her teacup slipping to the floor from frozen hands. Those words, those very words, that none outside the Duellists knew…what could this mean? Who was this woman?
“So, yes. You never wanted the Power, I see that now. Then why did you fight?” The Chairman spoke quietly, as if to herself. Juri could not answer even had she an answer to give. “You didn’t fight for love, nor money, not even for the Power.”
The Chairman rose, turning her back on Juri. Facing the window she clasped her hands behind her back and spoke to the snow outside.
“For a miracle, perhaps?”
Juri didn’t think she could take much more. Something within her burst, her heart felt as if it would break apart, leaving her sitting here, soulless and empty. She could hear herself sobbing, racked with painful gulps of air, a desperate last attempt to control her emotions. Oh Gods, let me die now…
“You wish to die?” The Chairman whirled on Juri, answering her unspoken thoughts. “You have already been dead…for nearly a decade, you have lived on this Earth a dead thing, with no desire, no dreams…no miracles!” Her voice penetrated Juri’s blood-filled brain. Her throat constricted, she thought…she hoped… she might pass out from the pain.
“Why?” Juri asked as she slipped to floor from her chair, one hand grasping her chest, holding the very spot where the locket used to lie. “Why are you doing this?”
The Chairman pulled out a small object from her pocket and held it over Juri’s body. The golden links reflected the firelight in a dozen miniature suns. Juri gazed with dismay at the locket she had worn, that she had lost, that had held within it her secret life.
“Do you want this?” The Chairman’s voice was cold, full of disdain. “Do you want this fetter back? Do you want to remain chained to the things you deny yourself, the dreams you’ve rejected, the miracles you’ve repudiated? Is this what you fought for? Is this what you want out of your life?”
Juri felt fury and despair war within her. She couldn’t breathe, it was too much. Her head dropped, her fist clenched across her chest. Hot tears of defeat traced molten paths down her cheeks, falling audibly to the tiles below. She dragged one deep breath into her lungs, and with a last effort against blackness, she shouted, “NO!” then collapsed on the floor, sobbing so hard she thought she might shatter.
“No,” she cried, “I want to be free.” Then putting her hands to her face, she cried tears of relief, tears of disgust, hatred, pity and finally simple sadness and longing.
Two arms closed about her, and a soft voice muttered in her ear, unintelligible words of comfort, as one might offer a child newly awoken from a nightmare. Juri leaned against the chest in front of her and wept for herself, and for the joys she might have known, the pain she might have felt, the life she might have had.
How much time passed, Juri could not tell. At last she let go of the arms that held her, and turned away, fumbling for a handkerchief from her pocket. A small, metallic noise drew her attention to the tiles beneath her. There, in a tangled pile, lay her locket on its chain. Juri looked at it with confusion, as if she had never seen it before, then picked it up gingerly.
She opened it looking at the picture of the young girl within. As always, the girl within looked off to the side, never meeting her eyes. She closed it firmly, the click of the lock sounding with finality.
“Goodbye.” Then with a smooth motion she turned and hurled the necklace into the fireplace, where it landed in the hottest part of the flames.
Wiping at her face, Juri stood uncertainly, then sat herself once again in the chair. A fresh cup of tea had been poured, and she sipped at it, thankful for the ritual, the bitter taste, the hot comfort that the liquid brought.
No words were spoken for some time. The Chairman sat with her as if they were close friends between whom no words were necessary.
Eventually the Chairman looked up from the fire. “Thank you for your time, President Arisugawa. Why not take tomorrow off?” She smiled sweetly, with an almost childlike grin. “The snow will be beautiful – you can take some time and enjoy it. I have no doubt that the company will be here when you return the day after.” And her smile sparkled like sunshine on fresh snow.
Juri thanked the Chairman gratefully. There were so many things she could do…a day off…to enjoy herself… Juri’s smile was beautiful, and no longer cold or remote.
Walking back to her office, she thought about the holidays that were coming up. She had friends she could visit, and maybe she would take a long walk in the fresh snow tomorrow…she passed by her secretary’s desk. Glancing at it, Juri remembered Miss Tsui’s dark eyes, and thought that they had been looking worried lately. She walked to her coat closet and pulled the coat off its hanger. A sharp corner banged against her thigh. She reached into the pocket and found a beautifully wrapped box. A small tag read “To: President Arisugawa, From: Tsui Mei-lin.” Juri smiled and put the box back in her pocket. One of the first things she would do is buy that girl a nice holiday present.
The Chairman leaned forward in her chair, her hands supporting her head. She sighed with exhaustion. A hand touched her shoulder gently, and she looked up with a tired smile.
“Is this really the only way?” Chairman Tenjou Utena asked sadly. “It seems so cruel somehow, like plucking the wings from flies.”
“Think of it more like opening the window, then chasing the fly outside.” Anthy’s voice was soothing. She gently massaged Utena’s neck.
“Did you see?” Utena turned, looking up into emerald eyes.
“No.” Anthy’s voice became serious, “I couldn’t bring myself to watch.”
They remained silent for a moment. Outside the snow continued to fall, inside the fire continued to burn.
Utena breathed deeply of the aromatic air. “Two down, two to go.” She leaned forward and clicked the button to page her secretary. “Miss Sakurai, please make an appointment with Director Saionji for this time next week.”
“Thank you. Go home now, Mika…I’ll be fine tonight.”
“Yes, Chairman. Thank you and have a good night.”
She let go of the button with another sigh. Anthy placed her hand on Utena’s and the Chairman, with a squeeze, clasped it tightly.
“Let’s go home, Anthy.”